By KRISTINE DE LEON
The World Health Organization (WHO) and the Ministry of Health hosted around 200 professionals from the health, academic, NGO, and private sectors for the “Tackling Infectious Diseases: A Call for Action” conference last week, held on October 20 and 21, at Blue Sky Hotel.
Through collaboration and open and honest conversation, attendees from various countries, including China, Japan, and Russia, walked away from the event with innovative ideas to combat public health challenges and foster regional technological improvement.
“I am very pleased with the level of support and enthusiasm of scientific research and public health issues. There are many research scientists and health professionals who are here because of their love of science and research, as well as their interest in health and public health for the people of Mongolia,” said WHO Representative for Mongolia, Dr. Soe Nyunt-U. “The level of ideation and engaged participation is a clear indicator that the region has real potential for crossover innovation across the different sectors.”
Participants heard prominent keynote speeches from Minister of Health Dr. A.Tsogtsetseg, World Health Organization Representative in Mongolia Dr. Soe Nyunt-U, State Secretary Dr. D.Ochirbat, and Director of Division of Communicable Diseases at WHO Western and Pacific Regional Offices Dr. Mark Jacobs. Participants also had the opportunity to both listen to and interact with different panels of experts from the National Center for Communicable Diseases, National Center for Zoonotic Disease, and the Public Health Institute, each sharing their latest research findings or strategic development plans for priority public health issues.
“We need people who can help, and we needed the people of Mongolia to be here to share in this meeting. There were many good suggestions, ideas, and we will continue to work on these for the next weeks, or months,” said Dr. Soe Nyunt-U in his closing remarks for the conference last Friday. Dr. Nyunt-U centered his speech on the challenges of continued development in the areas of public health, surveillance and medical facilities, and how those challenges can be addressed through the collaboration of health officials, academia, and government functionaries.
The main outputs of the jointly organized conference were to identify the focal points for viral hepatitis, hospital-acquired infections, sexually transmitted infections, and to improve partnership across all the different actors and sectors involved in different aspects of emerging diseases.
According to WHO, Mongolia also has the highest rate of liver cancer and mortality from liver cancer in the world. In addition, although heart disease and hypertension are among the most preventable of diseases, they are the most widespread and costly health problems in Mongolia. Another critical issue is the prevalence of sexually transmitted infections in the youth population. The UN Human Development Report for Mongolia from June 2016 reports that the practice of safe sex is not widespread among youth, and new cases of HIV have shown steady growth since 2005.
The conference served as a catalyst in addressing major public health concerns within Mongolia and emerging concerns due to an increase of travel between neighboring countries. It also served as a further linkage between WHO and the Ministry of Health, and it highlights the use of progressive partnerships to develop and deliver innovative solutions for the development of the Communicable infectious Diseases Strategy by the Ministry of Health.
“One thing I want to mention, the reason we organized and supported this conference is that [Mongolia] has a new government, new Prime Minister, new Cabinet, new Ministry of Health, and new Parliament. And anyone interested in promoting health, should always be cognizant of the faulty of development.”
Dr. Soe Nyunt-U said WHO recognizes the importance of collaboration with different sectors and the surrounding countries for efficiency and effectiveness. He argues that it may be difficult to implement improvements on critical health-related issues due to Mongolia’s fluctuating economy and political landscape. In addition, with the rise of antibiotic resistance and changing environmental conditions occurring globally, the member states of WHO Western and Pacific Regional Offices are having to work harder to address environmental risks and new communicable diseases. In this international collaborative effort to promote healthy lives, WHO and the Mongolian government have to leverage each other to deliver.
“It is the job of the Minister of Health and WHO to continue to commit to working for the people, to bring all stakeholders, and to listen to all stakeholders. Unfortunately, sometimes those who are present in such a conference express their ideas; they make their suggestions and comments relevant. But many times and in many countries, those who are not present at this kind of gathering are the one who are going to dictate, sometimes with money, and agenda. We call it a ‘hijacked agenda.’”
Dr. Nyunt-U also urges that the Mongolian government and stakeholders take immediate action. “I would like to instill a bit of urgency into public health issues. We don’t have all the time in the world. WHO and its partner will continue to support research,” he emphasized in his closing speech.
“The reality of policy making, and the reality of politics, is such that you as the government is responsible for execution. We cannot wait for complete evidence all the time. Even though we already provided strong evidence, it is still not complete evidence.”
“We cannot get into the political process. But also we cannot be penalized for such failures, and we cannot be complacent for such failures. We need to health the Ministry of Health to deliver their promises.”
WHO and the Ministry of Health have identified five strategic directions for enhanced cooperation by bringing together the people and understanding each other’s needs.